5 books on more meaningful relationships
Take a literary journey through the science of rewarding relationships.
Tue, Apr 22, 2014 at 03:57 PM
Trust and empathy are all essential behaviors for rewarding relationships — whether in business, friendship or love. For those looking to deepen their connections with others, the following five books offer a chance to explore how trust influences us, why forgiveness can lead to healing ourselves, and how empathy enables cooperation in all types of relationships.
Whether you’re searching for lasting love or seeking more depth in your established relationships, these titles hold the keys to more meaningful connections with others.
A professor of psychology at Northeastern University, David DeSteno directs the Social Emotions Group, where he studies the mechanisms of the mind that shape vice and virtue — including trust. DeSteno shows that trust is essential to all relationships, bonding family and friends and guiding important decisions. So how do we know when we can really trust someone – even ourselves? Presenting evidence and deriving practical conclusions for how trust works in everyday life, “The Truth About Trust” brings together the latest research, from fields as diverse as psychology and robotics. The book shows how trust influences us at every level, affecting our business partnerships and family relationships, and dictating how we learn, how we love, how we spend money and even how we take care of our own health.
DeSteno identifies the nuances of physical nonverbal signs that reveal trustworthiness and explains how an examination of the self can help readers know whether they can trust themselves when it comes to willpower, for example. (To this end he advocates being realistic and forgiving with yourself as well as with others.) The book concludes with six powerful and easy-to-remember rules regarding trust for the greater good of all. The first rule: “Trust is risky but necessary, useful, and even powerful.” Trust may be a gamble, but it’s a better bet than closing ourselves off to potentially meaningful relationships.
By Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
Whether a minor slight or a major trauma, forgiveness can be a challenging path to take. Perhaps no one understands just how challenging – and how essential – that can be than the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Reverend Mpho Tutu. Tutu's role as the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission taught him much about forgiveness. Instead of revenge and retribution, Tutu helped South Africa tread the difficult path of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. In their forthcoming book, “The Book of Forgiving,” the Tutus use examples from their own lives and those of others around the globe to offer a roadmap – a practical guide for all walks of life.
They challenge the notion that the act of forgiveness is a sign of weakness, instead offering scientific proof that by pardoning others we help to heal ourselves emotionally. Through guided meditation, journal exercises and prayer, the Tutus give us the space and time to forgive others, seek forgiveness or forgive ourselves. The Tutus have the distilled the wisdom they’ve acquired into tools called the Four-Fold Path: telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness and choosing to either renew or release the relationship that caused you pain. The Tutus believe that it is only through walking this path that we can free ourselves of the endless cycle of pain and retribution.
You’re in the kitchen with a close friend or family member, prepping a meal. Your companion, slicing and dicing, suddenly cries out. You wince, and feel a lightning bolt of pain shoot up your spine – maybe you even grab your own hand in the same place where you see they’ve cut theirs. The experiencing of someone else’s feelings is a deep and primal expression of empathy, and it’s part of what Nicholas Epley explores in his new book, “Mindwise.” This link from imitating another person's actions to experiencing the other person's emotions is critical for understanding the minds of others. But as Epley shows, that for something so primal, we humans are surprisingly bad at it. Epley is a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he conducts experiments that seek to determine how, and how well, we reason about the thoughts and beliefs of others. In “Mindwise,” he explains that this ability is one of the brain's greatest abilities, because it allows you to achieve one of the most important goals in any human life: connecting with other human beings.
“Mind reading allows you to cooperate with those you should trust and avoid those you shouldn't," he writes. "It allows you to track your reputation in the eyes of others, helping you to ensure that others think of you as a competent and reliable person worth befriending. At its best, being able to read the minds of others enables understanding between friends, forgiveness among enemies, empathy between strangers, and cooperation between countries and couples and coworkers. Without it, cooperative society is barely imaginable. However, even our greatest abilities may be far from perfect.”
And "far from perfect" is putting it mildly – throughout “Mindwise,” Epley demonstrates how we believe we understand others so much better than we actually do. “Mindwise” won't turn other people into open books, but it will give you the wisdom to revolutionize how you think about them — and about yourself.
By Sara Eckel
If you're a single woman who would rather be in a relationship, the pathologies you're accused of are endless. Sara Eckel, a freelance writer who met her husband at 39 and married him at 44, is well acquainted with them all. Her new book “It's Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're Single" grew out of a popular Modern Love column in the New York Times that she wrote in 2011. Sometimes, It’s Not You told the story of the many ways Eckel strove to improve herself in her quest for love, and garnered such a huge response that she developed it into a book. Each of the 27 chapters addresses one of the accusations she received throughout her years of dating – classic indictments including "you have issues," "you have low self-esteem," "you're too intimidating" and "you're too picky." One by one, Eckel debunks this predictable litany of reasons why women of a certain age remain single, all the while distilling research and personal observations into a compassionate take on single life.
Eckel sagely points out that “when you stop picking apart your personality and endlessly replaying the game tapes of your previous relationships, you clear a lot of mental space,” and she rationally discusses why each of these “truisms” are utterly wrong, funneling many through a Buddhist viewpoint. Perhaps most importantly, Eckel encourages women to examine what’s right with their lives, rather than what’s wrong – something difficult to do when society is passing judgment, she acknowledges, but a necessary step nonetheless. “It’s Not You” provides a cheering reminder that life is complicated, and so are people. Instead of torturing yourself with a self-improvement checklist, she asks, why not accept that you are “a flawed but basically lovable human being?"
By Ty Tashiro
Ty Tashiro, Discovery Network's relationship expert and University of Maryland professor, may not be a genie in a bottle — but he’s here to grant you three wishes. Or, rather, he wants to make sure you don’t squander the three wishes you already have available to you. His new book, “The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love,” translates reams of scientific studies and research data into actionable tips on how to find lasting love. After explaining the evolutionary reasons why one is predisposed to wish for attractive, healthy mates, Tashiro emphasizes the importance of choosing the right "three wishes" in selecting an ideal partner. As he explains it, humans today are trapped by evolutionary urges that made for great survival instincts but provide little reward for modern love. Attraction to looks and money, which rank highly among men and women, respectively, may have worked to beget and support healthy offspring in the Stone Age, but those benchmarks don't pay off in developed societies, where common access to food, medicine and shelter have enabled 99 percent of folks to survive past the age of 35.
Most people continue to spend two of their three wishes for traits on physical attractiveness and wealth, despite getting little to no return on their investment in these two traits when it comes to reproductive fitness, relationship satisfaction and relationship stability. All species, including humans, tend to retain mechanisms of survival long after those mechanisms have lost their usefulness. The preference for mates who are physically attractive and who have resources can be thought of in this way, because privileging these two characteristics made sense for most of human history. However, given the rapid changes in our mating environment, our mate selection behaviors are a bit like wisdom teeth, a feature that was once useful but is now unnecessary, can cause pain and is often in need of removal.
Because longer living means longer coupling, he suggests we rethink what we seek in a mate. Backed by scientific findings from sociology, medical science and psychology, Tashiro includes an accessible framework of exercises and sound advice to help singles find their happily-ever-afters.
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